Washington Insight

FHWA and FTA issue review questions on environmental justice in transportation planning

Jim Fahey
Director of Government Relations
APWA Washington Office

Over the years, increasing attention has been given to the broad social and environmental impacts of various transportation investment and programming decisions on minority and low-income communities throughout the United States. This spring, the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to issue revised planning and environmental regulations addressing these impacts.

As local officials await the issuance of these regulations, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently sent out a memorandum to division and regional offices with a series of review questions and recommended actions for complying with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Executive Order on Environmental Justice.

The environmental justice order, issued by President Clinton in 1994, amplified Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars intentional and disparate impact discrimination. The directive requires federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their missions by identifying and addressing the adverse health and environmental impacts of agency activities, policies, and programs.

The FHWA/FTA memorandum provides clarification pending issuance of the regulations which, the agencies state, "will focus on public involvement strategies for minority and low-income groups and assessment of the distribution of benefits and adverse environmental impacts at both the plan and project level."

For transportation, the focus of much environmental justice concern in the past has been centered on project development. But as FHWA and FTA indicate in their memorandum, Title VI and environmental justice apply also to the "processes and products of planning." While the ultimate impact on local transportation planning is not specifically raised in the memorandum, the review questions outlined in it will certainly be of interest to local officials.

Below are the questions FHWA and FTA offer as an aid to reviewing and verifying compliance with Title VI and environmental justice. The discussion of the issues reflected in them will be held as part of planning certification reviews and as part of statewide planning findings that are made in connection with Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) approval.

Overall Strategies and Goals:

What strategies and efforts has the planning process developed for ensuring, demonstrating, and substantiating compliance with Title VI? What measures have been used to verify that the multi-modal system access and mobility performance improvements included in the plan and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or STIP, and the underlying planning process, comply with Title VI?

Has the planning process developed a demographic profile of the metropolitan planning area or State that includes identification of the locations of socio-economic groups, including low-income and minority populations as covered by the Executive Order on Environmental Justice and Title VI provisions?

Does the planning process seek to identify the needs of low-income and minority populations? Does the planning process seek to utilize demographic information to examine the distributions across these groups of the benefits and burdens of the transportation investments included in the plan and TIP (or STIP)? What methods are used to identify imbalances?

Service Equity:

Does the planning process have an analytical process in place for assessing the regional benefits and burdens of transportation system investments for different socio-economic groups? Does it have a data collection process to support the analysis effort? Does this analytical process seek to assess the benefit and impact distributions of the investments included in the plan and TIP (or STIP)?

How does the planning process respond to the analyses produced? Imbalances identified?

Public Involvement:

Does the public involvement process have an identified strategy for engaging minority and low-income populations in transportation decision-making? What strategies, if any, have been implemented to reduce participation barriers for such populations? Has their effectiveness been evaluated?

Has public involvement in the planning process been routinely evaluated as required by regulation? Have efforts been undertaken to improve performance, especially with regard to low-income and minority populations? Have organizations representing low-income and minority populations been consulted as part of this evaluation? Have their concerns been considered?

What efforts have been made to engage low-income and minority populations in the certification review public outreach effort? Does the public outreach effort utilize media (such as print, television, radio, etc.) targeted to low-income or minority populations? What issues were raised, how are their concerns documented, and how do they reflect on the performance of the planning process in relation to Title VI requirements?

What mechanisms are in place to ensure that issues and concerns raised by low-income and minority populations are appropriately considered in the decision-making process? Is there evidence that these concerns have been appropriately considered? Have the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) or State DOT made funds available to local organizations that represent low-income and minority populations to enable their participation in planning processes?

More information about environmental justice and Title VI as they relate to transportation, the environment, and planning can be found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/ej2.htm.